A Research on Challenges Facing Iraqi Women Obtaining Legal Rights

KAS Amman, Women Empowerment Organization, and the Lebanese American University Beirut organized a regional roundtable on the challenges Iraqi women are facing in the process of obtaining better legal rights. Women’s rights activists, academics from the field of Gender Studies, as well as high ranking judges participated in the workshop to discuss gender discrimination in Iraqi law. The results will be collected in a research paper.

Event: Regional Roundtable Discussion

Date, Place: February 27-28, 2013, Coral Suits Hotel, Beirut – Lebanon

Concept: Suzan Aref, Dr. Otmar Oehring, Dr. Dima Dabbous

Organization: Women Empowerment Organization, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung –

Amman Office, Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World

1. Program Overview

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Welcome Speeches

CEDAW and the Importance of Committing to the International Agreements

Discrimination Against Women in Iraqi Legislation (Constitution and Personal Status Law)

Discrimination Against Women in Iraqi Legislation (Penal Code and other Laws)

Challenges Facing the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women Presenting the 2011 Iraqi CEDAW Report

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Women’s Laws in Kurdistan in Comparison with the Rules in the Federal Government

Suggested Strategies for Addressing Women’s Rules

The Lebanese Experience in Dealing with the Personal Status Law The Syrian Experience in Dealing with the Personal Status Law Planning the Research Paper and Designing the Research Groups

Final Remarks


List of Participants



Karrada District Court

Baghdad, Iraq

Sabbah Al HALLAK

Activist and Researcher

Syrian Women League Organization

Damascus, Syria

Suhailah Hassan Al-ASADI

Project Manager

Iraq Foundation - Baghdad Office

Baghdad, Iraq

Ta’ameem Jaleel AL AZZAWIE

Lawyer and expert trainer

Baghdad, Iraq

Liza Nissan HIDO


Baghdad Women's Association

Baghdad, Iraq

Dr. Ihsaan Muhsen ALHUDHAIRI


College of Law

Najaf, Iraq

Judge Rahem AlIGEELI


Baghdad, Iraq

Dr. Nahla Al NADAWI

College Professor

College of Education for Women

University of Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq

Judge Hadi Aziz AL SADI


Baghdad, Iraq

Dr. Bayan Kovistan AZIZI

Assistance lecture of Law and Politics

Salahaddin University

Head of women program in Hawler center for rehabilitation of torture victims

Erbil, Iraq



Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW)

Lebanese American University

Beirut, Lebanon


Member of Baghdad Provincial Council

Baghdad, Iraq

Dr. Sabah Sobhi HAYDER

Head of Political Science Department

College of Law and Politics- Salahaddin University

Erbil, Iraq

Dr. Qusay Salman HILAL

Head of the Department of Law

Cihan University

Erbil, Iraq

Dr. Bushra AL OBAIDY


Iraqi Women Jurists Organization

Baghdad, Iraq

Suzan AREF


Women Empowerment Organization (WEO)

Erbil, Iraq

Joumana MERHI


The Arab Institute for Human Rights

Beirut, Lebanon

Masroor Aswad MOHIALDEEN

Member of the Iraqi High Commission of Human Rights

Kirkuk, Iraq


Member of the Parliament

Kurdistan Parliament

Erbil, Iraq



Konrad Adenauer Stiftung - Amman Office

Amman, Jordan

Tavga Omer RASHID


Legal Department and the Protection of Human Rights at Commission for Human Rights (KRG)

Erbil, Iraq

Peter Rimmele


Konrad Adenauer Stiftung - Beirut Office

Beirut, Lebanon


Women’s rights in Iraq have had a long lasting history and used to be the most developed ones in the region. At the beginning of the 90s however, these rights continuously decreased and have not recovered until today. While the Kurdish

region has been able to make progress in the field of women’s rights in the last decade, mostly legally, the Arab part of Iraq is still facing severe problems, legally as well as in practice.

In this context, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Amman/KAS Amman, the Women Empowerment Organization/WEO, and the

Lebanese American University Beirut/LAU organized a regional roundtable on the 27th and 28th of February 2013 on the challenges Iraqi women are facing in the process of obtaining legal rights. Women’s rights activists, academics from the field of Gender Studies, as well as high ranking judges participated in the workshop to discuss gender discrimination in the Iraqi law.

The roundtable was moderated by Ta’ameem Jaleel Al Azzawie who is a lawyer and trainer on women’s rights from

Baghdad, Iraq.

The workshop will be followed by a number of meetings aimed at writing a comprehensive research paper that

uncovers the defects in the Iraqi legislation as well as the discrimination of women on the ground - a result of the patriarchic system. Additionally, the study will give recommendations to amend discriminating articles and implement equitable laws.

Welcome Speeches

At the beginning of the workshop the

organizers Suzan Aref, WEO, Mr. Peter

Rimmele, KAS Beirut, Dr. Otmar Oehring,

KAS Amman, and Dr. Dima Dabbous of the

Institute of Women’s Studies in the Arab

World at LAU Beirut welcomed all

participants and thanked them for their

great commitment and a fruitful

cooperation. They emphasized that it is the

combination of participants that makes this

roundtable highly efficient. Activists,

academics, and legal representatives will

network and form qualitatively high focus

groups for the subsequent research.

CEDAW and the Importance of Committing to the International Agreements

At the beginning of the first session

Ta’ameem Jaleel Al Azzawie explained the

background of Iraq and international

agreements with a focus on CEDAW, the

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms

of Discrimination Against Women.1 CEDAW

had been signed and ratified by Iraq in

1986. However, the application and

implementation of the agreement and its

articles on the ground has not been

successful. One reason is that legal bodies,

such as judges, lawyers etc., have not been

committed sufficiently to its articles. The

second reason is that Iraq made

reservations to Art. 2 (f) and (g), Art. 9 (1)

and (2), Art. 16, and Art. 29 of the

convention which significantly undermines

its efficiency as they are made to core

articles of the convention. The reservations

have been placed although Iraq has signed

the Vienna Convention which forbids

1 The text of the convention can be found under

the following link:


reservations on main articles of international

agreements that undermine the essence of

a treaty.

The text of the articles holding reservations

would pledge the state to the following:

- Art. 2 (f): To take all appropriate

measures, including legislation, to modify or

abolish existing laws, regulations, customs

and practices which constitute

discrimination against women.

- Art. 2 (g): To repeal all national penal

provisions which constitute discrimination

against women.

- Art. 9 (1): States Parties shall grant

women equal rights with men to acquire,

change or retain their nationality. They shall

ensure in particular that neither marriage to

an alien nor change of nationality by the

husband during marriage shall automatically

change the nationality of the wife, render

her stateless or force upon her the

nationality of the husband.

- Art. 9 (2): States Parties shall grant

women equal rights with men with respect

to the nationality of their children.

- Art. 16: States Parties shall take all

appropriate measures to eliminate

discrimination against women in all matters

relating to marriage and family relations and

in particular shall ensure, on a basis of

equality of men and women (…).

- Art. 29: Any dispute between two or more

States Parties concerning the interpretation

or application of the present Convention

which is not settled by negotiation shall, at

the request of one of them, be submitted to

arbitration (…).

During the subsequent discussion,

participants emphasized with regard to Art.

16 that the main problem of this reservation

is the fact that it denies women the right to

freely choose who they marry. Thereby, it

also allows parents and judges to marry kids

under the age of 16 without any legal


Thus, the Iraqi constitution is rated over

CEDAW which makes the international

agreement inefficient. In this context,

participants noted that it needs a better

harmonization between international

conventions, specifically CEDAW, and

national legislations. Therefore, legal

representatives, mainly judges, have to be

involved in the study to be conducted in

order to put more pressure on officials to

implement international treaties in the

national legal systems.

Discrimination Against Women in Iraqi Legislation – Constitution and Personal Status Law

Before interpreting the various

discriminating articles in depth, the

technical difficulties of the constitutional text

were discussed.

Judge Rahem Aligeeli stressed an important

point. He explained that the order of the

constitution is highly important for the

impact of its articles and paragraphs. That

means that a paragraph in the constitution

stands above the preceding one with regard

to the influence of its content. Art. 2 (c), for

instance, is valued higher than Art. 2 (b)

while (b) is rated higher than 2 (a).

Furthermore, the text of the articles is not

clear and leaves too much room for

interpretation. This has a huge influence on

its application which presents a problem

that needs to be tackled as it can lead to

legal abuse; especially, because prosecutors

are often influenced by their own

background and mentality. Here, it needs

better independent observation bodies to

tackle the problem. It was further noted

that the style of writing includes women

politically but not really in the rights

regarding cultural issues.

Additionally, the way the constitution has

been created is a reason for its

shortcomings: Various people and groups

with different social and religious

backgrounds participated in the

establishment of the constitutional text. The

law is an outcome of different official actors,

mainly clerics, that were creating the law

beneficial for their own confession or tribe

and, hence, their self interest. With 17

confessions and a high number of tribes

this, of course, had a significant influence on

the laws.

Workshop participants

Particularly Art. 41 of the constitution has

led to widespread criticism among women’s

rights activists as it allows for a draconic

interpretation of Islam. The text of the

article is as followed:

Art. 41: The followers of all religions and

sects are free in the:

- (a): Practice of religious rites, including

the Husseini ceremonies (Shiite religious


- (b): Management of the endowments, its

affairs and its religious institutions. The law

shall regulate this.

Second: The state guarantees freedom of

worship and the protection of the places of


The main dilemma of the article is the fact

that it can be used as an excuse for

practices that are not compatible with basic

human rights laws. As the law says that

every individual is free in practicing its

personal status according to its religious

rites, it allows for instance the marriage of

minors as the age of marriage is different in

every religion. Also inheritance or even

incest is interpreted differently in the

confessions. Moreover, Art. 41 is highly

influential on other laws. An example is the

custody for a child. In principle the woman

should have custody for her child. However,

Art. 41 questions this regulation as some

confessions have their own rulings with

regard to custody. Thus, as there is no clear

regulation and the personal status can be

dealt with on a private base and on the base

of a person’s religion the law risks the

violation of basic human rights. It also

promotes confessionalism by rating it over

citizenship which is a dangerous path – civil

law should always stand above

confessionalism in the name of equality.

Art. 41 can not question and risk the

general principles of the constitution but has

to be in conformity with the constitution.

Participants subsequently discussed whether

an amendment of Art. 41 is the final aim or

a reinterpretation by legal bodies in

conformity with the general principles of the

constitution. The final decision about the

article is made by the Constitutional

Amendment Committee which needs to be

given an incentive.

It was stated that the law has to be

abolished or amended as a reinterpretation

will not be enough to change the situation

on the ground. In order for legal bodies to

change their attitude and, hence, amend the

law it needs encompassing awareness raising

campaigns as well as an involvement

of decision makers. The aim should be the

preparation of a new law. Even if the

suggestion might get rejected it should be

proposed to indirectly pressure officials.

Here, also judges should participate in such

campaigns in order to give it more strength.

However, even tough some decision makers

might share their ideas, convincing them to

promote them openly is difficult as officials

are often scared of the consequences if they

challenge state institutions. If the law is not

abolished it will need a new article that

makes the misuse of 41 impossible and,

hence, clearly defines its interpretation.

Discrimination Against Women in Iraqi

Legislation – Penal Code and other


At the beginning of the third session

Ta’ameem Jaleel Al Azzawie listed the main

laws of the Iraqi Penal Code (from 1969)

discriminating women:

2 Art. 41 (1)

considers as a legal right “The punishment

of a wife by her husband, the disciplining by

parents and teachers of children under their

authority within certain limits prescribed by

law or by custom.”3 Art. 128 and 130 give

legal excuses for crimes such as honor

killings. Further laws that violate women’s

rights and do not treat them equally to men

are Art. 318, 377, 380, 393, 398, 409, and

427. Most of the laws, participants noted,

are in relation with women as victims of

violence. Art 427 for instance allows judges

to drop charges against a man that i.e.

kidnaps or rapes a woman if he marr ies her

after that. As a result violence against

women is being legitimized which is a

common phenomenon not only in the Penal

Code but in the whole Iraqi law system.

2 The text of the Penal Code can be found under

the following link:


3 In Kurdistan this law is not in power for

husbands punishing their wifes but for teachers

punishing their kids.

These laws are inhumane as they repress

the dignity of women.

However, the problem is not only with the

laws but also the mentality of the people

that believe in the justice of these laws.

There are cases where parents might not kill

their daughter anymore in the name of

honor, i.e. due to adultery, but burn her

with hot water and claim to the outside that

it was an accident or that the daughter

wanted to commit suicide. While an

examination could find out whether this is in

accordance with the facts it is almost never

followed up with such cases. Hence, an

overall question is whether society

recognizes women that were raped as

victims or as perpetrators. Additionally,

judges often take their own cultural

background more into consideration than

the law itself which is highly unacceptable

and can not be tolerated anymore.

While most laws mentioned above legitimize

violence against women participants

emphasized that the aim is not to

implement the same rights for women but

to abolish or amend laws allowing violence

and instead to enforce human rights.

Challenges Facing the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women

Presenting the 2011 Iraqi CEDAW Report

During the session participants summarized

the main points discussed before and named

the main challenges Iraqi women are facing:

- Lack of political will to achieve

equality and to apply encompassing

Human Rights

- The patriarchic mentality of the


- Lack of awareness among women

about their rights and possibilities

- Economic dependence and illiteracy

of women

- Discriminating laws and lack of

enforcement of laws ensuring

gender equality

- Gaps in laws which allows

subjective interpretation

- Patriarchic views of judges that

influence their jurisdiction

- Absence of mechanisms that

implement laws on the ground

- The interference and influence of

religious and tribal leaders in the


- Lack of women in decision making

positions, including parties

- No judicial offices focusing on cases

related to women’s rights

- Lack of academic data and


- Civil Society is not developed

enough which results in a lack of

awareness-raising campaigns

- Underrepresentation of the topics

human rights, equality, and

democracy in school curricula

- Lack of commitment of Iraqi state

to enforce international agreements

- Biased media reports on women


- Corruption in the public sector

- Underrepresentation of women in

security related sections such as

the police

- Failure of the Public Prosecution

Office in following up with cases discriminating women

While there are many discriminating articles

in the Iraqi law there are also various laws

aimed at equality as well as other

mechanism in the society that, in theory,

are supposed to ensure women

empowerment - such as quotas. However,

in practice these mechanisms are still

indirectly serving the patriarchic system.

Many women in high positions such as the

parliament are not specialized in the field of

women’s rights and rather serve the interest

of a specific group than of the state. Also, in

practice quotas in public institutions are

often distributed between groups and hence

serve the interest of men. Female MPs are

often married or related to other politicians

and vote according to their will.

Day 2

Women’s Laws in Kurdistan in

Comparison with the Rules in the Federal Government

Hazha Salman Mustafa-Madhar gave an overview of the legal situation with regard

to women’s rights in Kurdistan.

After the Kurdish Uprisings in the early 90s,

Kurdistan continuously tried to improve and

amend its laws with regard to Human

Rights. Thus, various laws on women’s

rights in the legal system, especially those

targeting violence against women, have

been changed to the better. Articles of the

Penal Code that have been amended are

129, 228, 130 and 115. Additionally, a

Higher Council of Women’s Affairs has been

created in 2010 that follows up with laws

regarding women’s. However, while the

situation in theory seems very promising

and while various laws have been amended

and implemented that protect women and

their rights, in practice the situation in

Kurdistan is still difficult. Hazha Salman

Mustafa-Madhar stated that in 2012 in Erbil

128 cases of torture against women

happened, 7 honor killings, 45 suicides by

burning, 22 homicides of women and 11

honor killings outside of Erbil.

During the subsequent discussion

participants stated that similar to the rest of

Iraq the mentality of the people is an

influential problem in Kurdistan. Many

families are highly committed to their

tradition to an extent that women suffer

from it. The burning of women as a form of

punishment is still common. Also, Female

Genital Mutilation (FGM), is a significant

problem in Kurdistan, more than in the Arab

part of Iraq. The main problem, participants

noted, is that the existing laws are not

enforced in practice. For instance, the law

on polygamy says that a woman has to

agree that her husband marries another

woman. However, in practice women are

often forced to agree on the arrangement so

that it can not be classified as a mutual

agreement. Judges frequently support these


It was further stated that the Kurdish law is

only applicable in the region or territory of

Kurdistan. Thus, if a violation of the law

happens outside of Kurdistan by Kurds it is

not punishable. As a result, many Kurdish

people get married, for instance to minors,

outside of Kurdistan. Hence, the laws are

often inefficient on the ground. However, it

should be mentioned that the government

of Kurdistan is better following up with the

violations on the ground. A further serious

and related problem in Kurdistan that needs

to be tackled is human trafficking. The

region is mainly used as a transit point to

Syria and Kuwait but also brings a

significant number of women and children

into Kurdistan. Kurdish law is the worst in

the region with regard to human trafficking.

In a summary, the main challenges for

women in Kurdistan are the patriarchic

system, the application of the laws on the

ground, and the gaps within the laws that

leave room for subjective interpretation.

Suggested Strategies for Addressing Women’s Rights

During this session participants further

discussed the points addressed before,

tackled differences and similarities between

Kurdistan and Iraq, and summarized the

specific challenges they should approach in

the near future.

In the context of CEDAW and international

agreements it was stated that more

pressure has to be channeled towards state

institutes to reach a lift of the reservations.

The reservations affect many issues related

to the personal status such as marriage,

divorce, inheritance etc. and are hence, of

utmost importance but also sensitive topics.

In order to promote the official lifting of the

reservations there needs to be a new and

better study about the effects of the

reservations in practice. It was emphasized

that there should be no differences in the

law for the various confessions but only one

law for all Iraqis. Also, the existing laws in

the constitution which do guarantee equality

have to be applied encompassing.

In order to secure the situation for women

on the ground the security sector has to be

involved. For instance, police officers have

to be better controlled and trained about the

rights of women. Furthermore, the skills and

knowledge in the field women’s rights of

officers in the customs and citizenship

department as well as the Ministry of

Interior has to be improved as these

sections have a crucial impact on the

application of the laws.

A pre-condition to work on the issues

addressed in a successful way, are solid

information sources. Therefore, statistics

from various institutions are needed, such

as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of

Interior etc. but also from universities und

independent institutes. To collect

encompassing data and analyze them in a

sophisticated way deep relations between

academia and activists are essential.

All in all, encompassing awareness-raising is

needed. This includes the education of

women about their laws; to tackle the

judiciary; to publicly discuss the role of

governmental bodies; and to urge lawyers

to look deeper into women’s rights.

The Lebanese Experience in Dealing with the Personal Status Law

Joumana Merhi gave a presentation on the Lebanese experience with the Personal Status Law.

The main dilemma she stated, with regard

to women’s rights in Lebanon, is the gap

between basic rights of women and

citizenship. The problem is that the laws

regulating the personal status are

contradictive to the national constitution.

Lebanon officially does not have a state

religion as for instance Iraq. However, in

practice legal issues are highly influenced by

religion, respectively the 18 different

confessions existing in Lebanon. Here, the

state steps back and does allow the

confessions to organize themselves with

regard to personal affairs. This creates

problems as all private affairs are decided

on the base of religion which significantly

undermines the civil state. Hence, the

various confessions are standing between

the citizen itself and the state which is

dangerous to the extent that the state does

not interfere in religious judiciary and thus,

is not able to sufficiently protect people

from judiciary that might violate their

human rights. As a result, since the state

has, to some extent given away part of its

sovereignty, people’s feeling of unity

significantly decreased. Instead, the private,

religious, and tribal identity is stronger than

the national identity which leads to an even

deeper gap between the groups. Hence, the

absence of a personal status law for all

Lebanese raises severe problems for the

state. Moreover, since it seems like there

are more rights in practice for confessions

than for individuals, people try to use

religion for their personal interest and

convert for sometimes simple material

reasons such as inheritance.

International agreements can be applied to

the Lebanese constitution, but on the

ground they are more or less meaningless

as the constitution itself does not have the

value it should have. Indeed, because

people do not see themselves protected by

the national law they draw back on religious

jurisprudence. Political parties as well as the

civil society are attached to the various

confessions instead of having national


Participants emphasized that, similar to

Iraq, people are not educated enough about

existing laws as for them national laws do

not make a big difference since their legal

issues are dealt with on a confessional base.

Therefore, people distance themselves more

and more from the state and politics. In this

context, participants agreed that there has

to be one unified law for whole Lebanon

which is not optional but based on equality –

between men and women as well as


The Syrian Experience in Dealing with the Personal Status Law

Sabbah Al Hallak elaborated on the situation

in Syria with regard to the Personal Status


She stated that while there is discrimination

in all laws, the basic problem can be found

in the Personal Status Law which is based

on traditional values and lacks modernity.

Islam is seen as one of the main sources of

the law but not the main source so that the

state can easily claim to the outside to be

secular while being highly sectarian in

practice. Many of the articles that existed in

the past and guaranteed some sort of

equality between men and women, have

been abolished or replaced by discriminating

laws. Especially with regard to marriage,

divorce, and crimes such as rape Syrian law

is violating universal Human Rights. Similar

to Iraq the marriage of minors is often

backed by judges which shows that also in

Syria the mentality and the patriarchic

system is one of the main problems. An

interesting aspect is the extent to which the

law differs drastically among the religions.

While Druses do not have polygamy and

while only judges are allowed to authorize a

divorce; among Muslims divorce is the

absolute right of the man but not of the

woman. For Christians adultery is a cause

and justification for divorce no matter who

committed it. Jewish laws are similar to the

Muslim laws and sometimes even more

discriminating. Thus, due to the high level of

confessionalism on the ground, that gives

different rights to the people, Sabbah Al

Hallak recommended that there should be a

Syrian Civil Law for all. Such law could still

involve religious backgrounds but it should

be clear in points such as under age

marriage, rape etc.

During the subsequent discussion it was

noted that campaigns that have been

launched have not had a desirable effect.

Instead, although the official support has

been huge, there was no political success.

Here, it should be questioned whether the

civil society has been strong enough.

Draft for the Research Paper Planning

At the end of the two days workshop a

strategy was developed on how to proceed

with the project, respectively how to

develop the research study. The title of the

research to be conducted will for now stay

the same - “A research on challenges facing

Iraqi women in obtaining legal rights”. The

study itself is supposed to reflect the gap

between international agreements on

women’s rights and the national Iraqi laws

and the closely linked patriarchic system.

The aim is mainly to improve the lobbying

power of the civil society. Thus, the study is

supposed to give the civil society evidence

for the legal situation but also the situation

of Iraqi women on the ground and should

indirectly pressurize decision makers to act

upon the situation as they will not be able

anymore to deny facts. Since the study will

be written by academics, activists, and

judges it will be more convincing as it can

not be claimed to be subjective or onesided.

With regard to the groups participants

decided that there will be three groups in

total - two in the region of Baghdad and one

in Kurdistan. Each group works on the

challenges, gaps, and mechanisms as

described before.

Final Remarks

During the evaluation of the workshop the

diversity of the participants was praised with

regard to their experience, the gender

balance in the workshop, and the diversity

of the religious and ethnic backgrounds of

the participants. It was further appreciated

that the discussions were open and the

different opinions were respected. This was

also a result of the fact that all participants,

regardless of sometimes diverse points of

view, have the same values with regard to

women’s rights.

On the other side, however, it was noted

that maybe it would be better to invite i.e.

judges that are not as supportive of

women’s rights in order to listen to their

points of views and, hence, work on

strategies on how to refute their arguments.

Also, officials from the Iraqi Parliament

should be invited as at one point decision

makers have to be brought to the table so

that amendments of the law are getting

promoted in practice.


The workshop can be assessed as a great

success. Especially the variety of the group

with regard to their profession but their

shared vision at the same time has made

the discussions highly fruitful. It became

clear that neither a pure bottom-up

approach nor a top-down approach will be

sufficient but that the strategy to improve

women’s legal rights has to be